Liar's Kingdom Chapter 4
You cannot begin to imagine how this depresses me. If this is what I get for a tea-bag what the fuck will thinking about some boiling water produce? Old Faithful geysering out of one of the drawers? Resignedly I put one bag inside the other, reflecting that, possibly, the Harrod’s bag is a suitable receptacle for a tea-bag of this sort. I decide I’m going to phone Kropotkin and vent a bit over the phone. Stomping up the aisle to the Trim-phone next to the lift, I finally notice the absence of a button to summon the lift or open the door. The arrow shaped lights above it are unlit, as if the lift is in limbo too.
Trim-phone in hand, I immediately hear a recorded announcement:
‘Thank you for calling Thanatos, your call is important to us.
Press 0 for Nihilism
Press 1 for Existentialism
Press the concrete beside the phone for post-modernism
Press the hash button for a customer advisor’
No ordinary trim-phone, I think, and press the hash. The voice, which sounds like a Xanaxed-to-the-max Helmethair from the top floor, goes on:
‘Currently all of our customer advisors are busy: please be patient your call is important to us, thank you for waiting.’
This seems unusually verbose for Thanatos, I think.
Music switches in. It’s Grieg. The Hall of the Mountain King. I hope I’m not holding long. It could drive me mad. I stare up at the lift indicators and try to banish goblins, gremlins and ghouls from my mind. Archives is beginning to get under my skin: I’ve been here what? An hour?
I give a start as Kropotkin’s Karloff cadence oozes through the earpiece.
‘Ah, Caulfield. Delighted. What can we do for you?’
It is not one of my best telephonically communicative moments:
‘Ummm…. Dunno… exactly?’ I’ve forgotten all about ranting.
‘Really! You must help us to help you, Caulfield. How are you getting on?’
‘It’s just… well what am I supposed to do?’
I can almost hear the shake of his head as he tuts down the ‘phone.
‘Caulfield, Caulfield. Did you get training when you came to work in…
Implementation, wasn’t it.?’
‘Actually, no I…’
‘Exactly, dear boy. Exactly. You know what you need don’t you!’
The line goes dead. He’s right. I need the book. The hand book, the user’s manual, guidelines, terms of reference: all of which I received on my first day in Implementation. Why should Archives be any different? At my interview, Ms Chakrabarti of HR informed me smugly that Thanatos was at the forefront of OJT. Mistakenly, I had believed this meant On the Job Training. In fact, its true meaning was Own Job Training. I made mine up as I went along, based on those books. Now I’m in Archives.
I’m really missing somewhere to sit; I swore when I left the army I’d never stand about again. I was an officer; deportment and bearing- important in front of the men. I walk about with my hands in my pockets to my heart’s content now.
Except when I’ve a Harrod’s bag - with a plant pot and a teabag in it – to carry. Well, Kropotkin’s Vade Mecum for Archive Newbies can wait. I articulate my heart’s desire aloud. I say to the deserted basement (where does that Cerberus go, by the way? There’s no way out but the lift.):
‘I’d just like something comfortable to sit in.’
But I haven’t given up trying to fool the cabinets: chair – begins with 3rd letter has 5 reverse the numbers for contrariness. 5th row 3rd cabinet. Right or left. Rebel against the military training: start on the right. No more left-right-left for me. Which drawer? I give it eeny-meeny. Start from the 3rd drawer though, ha. Which means I open drawer number 4.
PFFFLLLLOOOPH! Those who have been in a traffic accident recently will recognise the sound of an air bag deploying. Naturally, it’s not. An air bag that is. It’s a huge inflatable chair in the shape of pin-up-girl lips red as poster paint. The inflated thing topples to the floor. I suppose it’s the size of a common-or-garden armchair, though I must point out such things are more often found in houses rather than gardens. Unless you’re in certain parts of Manchester, Middlesbrough or Merseyside, where the windows are filled by chipboard rather than glass, that is.
The seat is blocking the cabinet aisle. I don’t care. I sit down and make myself comfortable listening to Thurber’s onomatopoeia coming from the purposeless machine. I feel the first feelings of satisfaction since leaving the lift.
For about 30 seconds. Another noise is on the edge of perception. Slowly getting louder. Thud-slide, thud-slide: it sounds like a stage limp. It’s either Kropotkin doing his Frankenstein’s Monster or some other refugee from the Universal backlot.
But it’s not. It’s a man in a white coat. About time I think. He gives me the mad eyes:
‘So, Francis, are you settling in?’
I hate my name; that’s why I’ve always been happy to answer to Caulfield.
‘How do you know my name?’
‘How do we know anything?’ Great, I think, more mind games.
‘I know what I’m told, I know what I experience.’
‘Excellent, no really…splendid!’
He looks me up and down as if surprised at cogency coming from a man sitting in Monroe’s lips: then he says:
‘And my name do you know that?’
He smiles, the smile of a loon or a mystic, who knows which? But the funny thing is I do know his name, though -no-one least of all him- has told me. But I am certain of it: so I tell him.
‘Dr Cagliari, I presume.’
He shrugs, ‘I take no responsibility for the contents...’ an arm waves at the cabinets.